Today we welcome back former DEAD GUY Dale Spindel, one of our library bloggers, as part of the DEAD GUY farewell tour! So glad to have Dale back one more time!
I was invited back for one last turn as Sunday blogger on Dead Guy, and I decided to write about what I know best, so here goes…
- In spite of the popularity of e-books, predictions of the imminent demise of print are still very much exaggerated. E-book purchasing has more or less leveled off and people still enjoy reading books in the same format that has worked so well for the past several centuries. Not that I think technology will come to a grinding halt – I’m just waiting for the day when I can have a chip implanted in my brain that will enable me to “meditate” books written by other people. I’m not sure how that’s going to play out at the circulation desk, but I’m confident that someone will figure it out.
- Library circulation is going to take a hit as more and more people abandon DVDs and turn to streaming services for video content. Libraries that can afford it have started to turn to services like Hoopla and Kanopy to provide downloadable video and audio content (as well as e-books) but the pay per view model has the potential to wreak havoc on library budgets unless defined limits are placed on patron access.
- I don’t know where people get the idea that recent immigrants to the United States are not interested in learning English. What I do know is that for most people, learning a new language becomes exponentially more difficult the older you become; I have often said that I do not know how well I would fare if, out of political or economic necessity, I suddenly found myself needing to live someplace outside of the English speaking world. I do know that I would do everything I could to ensure that any grandchildren I might have would be fluent in the language of the place we came to. In the library where I now work, some of the children who come regularly to our preschool story time sessions are being brought by grandparents whose ability to speak English is limited or nonexistent. Many of these older immigrants, having come here from different parts of the world, are unable to chat with each other (which makes me sad) but I am heartened by the fact that they are doing what they can to make damn sure that their grandchildren won’t have that same problem here in America. On the weekends, these same children are back in the library – this time with their parents – spending valuable family time looking through picture books and working with educational software. The reality I see is at direct odds with what is coming from the mouths and pens of some pundits
- The type of assistance that people seek from reference librarians has changed over the past 40 years due to the Internet, but not just because people are able to look up so many things for themselves online. What brings some people to the reference desk these days is their inability to fill out an online job application, print out a boarding pass, or scan and attach a print document to an email. What is needed in these cases is not so much a professionally trained librarian as a concierge or personal assistant. Forty years ago, if someone (usually male) approached a librarian (usually female) and asked her to type a letter for him because he didn’t know how to type, she would huffily explain that it was not her job to perform secretarial services. Today, however, when someone equally likely to be male or female approaches a librarian (only a little less likely today to be female) and asks for help in formatting a Word document, many of us eagerly jump right in. I’m not sure what the difference is between someone not wanting to bother to learn how to type and someone not wanting to bother to learn how to develop minimal computer competency, especially when the library offers free individualized training sessions. But why bother to learn as long as the librarian is willing to do it for you?
- Some larger library systems engage the services of social workers to assist people in the library who are homeless or otherwise in need of assistance in dealing with a variety of health or economic issues. I consider this to be a very good development since librarians are not trained as social workers but would have trained as social workers rather than as librarians if that was the kind of work that they actually wanted to do. Unfortunately, in smaller libraries or library systems, it is left to a librarian to deal with situations such as the ones I have handled at various times during my career. Here’s just a small sample:
- Dealing with the daily presence of a mentally ill individual who made vaguely threatening comments to members of the library staff and who was eventually jailed for physically attacking a family member.
- Explaining to the police why a woman who had defecated on the restroom floor and then later soiled an upholstered chair should be removed from the library. The police were reluctant to do this because the woman “seemed nice” and told the officers that she hadn’t been feeling well lately.
- Being yelled at by a regular patron because he was not hired for any of the jobs I had helped him apply for, recognizing even as I was helping him that his appearance and manner of communication were going to dissuade anyone from hiring him.
- Forty years ago, library programming for adults was pretty hard to find and was not ever mentioned as part of my professional education. Today, public libraries offer a wide variety of activities including movies, musical performances, classes, crafts, discussion groups, and gaming (both digital and non-digital), and that’s just for the adults. Children’s programming has expanded from story time and summer reading activities to include all types of crafts, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities , jugglers, magicians, musical performance, live animals, and pretty much anything else out there that creative librarians can think of and track down.
- Many in my profession have jumped on various bandwagons out of a fear of not remaining relevant. This has caused some librarians to spend valuable resources on such things as maintaining a presence on Second Life and posting QR codes throughout the library. We were also told not that long ago that Pokémon Go was going to be the next big thing to bring people into our libraries. I think it’s great that librarians are not afraid to try new things, but I wish that a little more critical thought would go into the process beforehand.
- I’m going to get flack for this one but I’m going to say it anyway. Too many people have fallen victim to our society’s willingness to require advanced degrees for positions that people used to be able to obtain by working their way up the proverbial ladder. Institutions of higher education are the obvious beneficiaries, in collusion with professional associations seeking what would appear to a foolproof way of raising the social and economic status of their memberships. According to a chart posted by the website Statistica at https://www.statista.com/statistics/185160/number-of-masters-degrees-by-gender-since-1950/ the number of master’s degrees granted in 2018, will rise to approximately 790,000 which is nearly five times as many as were granted in 1975 when I received the first of my two master’s degrees. There’s been a major reshuffling of the deck in terms of what librarians are called on to do and while, in some cases, the skills required by the job have become ever more high tech dependent, some of the tasks that librarians are performing today, if looked at objectively, really don’t require a master’s degree. I will also be the first one to say that the vast majority of the skills I use as a library director were picked up from twenty-five years on the job and not from anything that I learned in graduate school.
- A referendum in New Jersey calling for 125 million dollars to be bonded for public library construction and renovation projects passed easily on November 7 with 60% of the votes cast. This should give the people who claim that public libraries are no longer wanted or needed, something to think about.
It has been a real pleasure to be a part of “Dead Guy” and I wish Jeff and everyone else who has been a part of it the best of everything.